UPPER WEST SIDE — Eating and cooking with flowers is a trend that's currently riding high in the U.S., but they've been part of the Italian diet for a long time.
"Italians are known to eat almost anything that comes out of the garden," explained Craig Wallen, head chef at the Italian seasonal ingredient-driven restaurant 'Cesca on the Upper West Side. Zucchini blossoms are a staple in Italy especially in the area near Rome, he said.
The blossoms, which can be found at farmers markets across the city, including from Windfall Farms at the Union Square Greenmarket, add a pop of color to a dish.
Unlike the vegetable itself, the flavor of which is mellowed by the water, sugars and starch inside it, the flower has a distinct and slightly stronger zucchini flavor, but one that's not overpowering, Wallen said.
At 'Cesca, Wallen stuffs the blossoms with a ricotta mixture that has just a dash of finely chopped anchovies for an umami flavor. He lightly fries them in a tempura batter before serving them with marinara or a zucchini puree or on their own.
Wallen shared his recipe with DNAinfo New York:
Crispy Squash Blossoms with Smoked Mozzarella, Ricotta and Braised Zucchini
12-15 large zucchini flowers serve three to four people.
Ingredients for the Tempura Batter:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 to 1 ½ cups club soda or sparkling water
Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Slowly whisk in water until a loose batter forms. Note that some lumps are fine; don’t over-mix. The batter should be the consistency of cream — just thick enough to cling to the flowers, but mostly drips off when held up, leaving a thin coating.
Ingredients for the filling:
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons Parmigiano, grated
1 teaspoon finely minced anchovy
1 egg (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Mix ingredients of filling together evenly and put in a Ziploc bag.
2. Cut corner off of the bag and pipe into flower while gently holding the petals open.
3. Twist the tips of the petals together at the top to seal the filling inside the flower as much as possible.
4. Fill a large pot less than half-way with canola oil and, using a food thermometer to measure the temperature, heat to 375 degrees.
5. Dip the filled flowers in the batter and hold above the dipping bowl for a moment to let the excess drip off. Gently drop the filled blossoms one at a time into oil in a motion that lets them fall away from your hand, so that oil doesn't splatter.
6. With a slotted spoon, flip at least once to cook evenly on all sides. Total frying time should be a minute to a minute and a half. The batter does not need to achieve a deep brown color, just crispiness.
7. Serve with marinara sauce.